A week after a House panel said it might direct the Navy in its next authorization bill to rotate forward deployed ships after 10 years, Navy officials said they first decided on this change last year.
Last week, HASC staffers said ahead of the full committee markup of the eventual national defense authorization act (NDAA) that about half of the ships in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) fleet have been overseas for over 10 years (Defense Daily, April 26).
The HASC subcommittee on readiness included a provision in its mark that would require the Navy to limit forward deployed vessels to 10 years and direct ships that have already spent over 10 years overseas to return to a U.S. homeport within three years.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters the service had decided to change this posture before the deadly destroyer mishaps last year involving the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56).
The Navy decided early last year, before the Comprehensive Review (CR) or Strategy Readiness Review (SRR) that came after the collisions, “that that plan was starting to show some weaknesses already. So we had already decided to rotate them back” to about every eight years.
This change will take the service some time to transition into “but we'll do that as briskly as possible,” Richardson added. He confirmed the Navy would have a plan in place to get the older ships back stateside.
The CNO also noted the Navy is seeing some deeper maintenance issues in the Pacific to reinforce that decision.
“We’re having trouble addressing those at the SRF (Ship Repair Facility) in Yokosuka. They’re absolutely superb working team, you know, but it’s just hard to get into some of the deeper maintenance.”
Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer also elaborated on how the Navy is enacting the recommendations from the CR and SRR.
“We corralled in 140 or so, recommendations, observations, steerage. We think we boiled it down to about 110 or so, or 111, that we wanted to actually enact. We’ve enacted 20 of them, 78 percent.”
Spencer underscored many of the recommendations are immediate remedies but many others are cultural shifts.
“One of them is the continuing learning, that we really have to culturally get at. This isn’t a one time, wow, now we’re going to have someone drive a ship for five hours before they show up. This is going to be, Wow, let’s start with five, maybe it goes down to four, maybe it goes up to 8. We’re going to continually be in the learning process of what we can do to correct the root causes,” he added.
Richardson noted the Navy is working from a comprehensive plan, drawing on recommendations from the CR, SRR, individual mishap investigations and “we also rolled in all the GAO reports and, you know, pretty much everything that we could get our arms around into a single, comprehensive plan.”
He said the Navy is working to improve ship pilot training from the initial basic course with more challenging scenarios and simulators, more chances to drive, increasing levels of difficulty, and increasingly difficult assessments along the way as they go up through command.
“We're working very closely with the fleets, with the private sector, and those folks who can provide that technology. And also the Congress to make sure that we get the funding to do that through the FYDP,” Richardson added.